Weekend links 597

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Untitled art by Toshio Okazaki from JCA Annual 5, 1984.

• “Yeah, when I first started writing it, nobody knew what to call it at all. I mean, the publishers didn’t know what to call it. They thought that Tolkien was (writing about) a post-apocalyptic nuclear world. That’s the only way they could perceive an alternate world, in other words. And it was the same with Mervyn Peake… they’re all interpreted that way. The idea of putting ‘fantasy’ on a book meant usually meant that it was a children’s book. And if you put fantasy as the genre, they usually put ‘SF’ larger than ‘fantasy’ to show that it was what it was.” Michael Moorcock (again) talking to Derek Garcia about fiction, games, and (of course) Elric.

• “Non-payment, low payment, late payment and promises of jam tomorrow, or at some unspecified future date, bedevil the freelance life as they did five centuries ago.” Indeed. Boyd Tonkin on Albrecht Dürer, patron saint of stroppy freelancers.

• “All at once, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is tender, outrageous and daft.” Patrick Clarke compiles an oral history of Soft Cell’s debut album.

Yeah, it was kind of a media hype. In January [1967], the media said, [breathless] ‘Oh my god, San Francisco is the place to be. Come to San Francisco, wear flowers in your hair.’ So we had a meeting of the people in the Haight-Ashbury about how we were going to deal with so many people coming. The Diggers decided to kind of make it a university of the streets, an alternative anarchist culture.

We knew that all these people were coming to San Francisco, and we knew they weren’t going to stay. And we thought, well, the best thing we could do would be to kind of educate them about the kinds of things that are possible in society, and then let them go back to where they’re from, and they would carry these ideas. And that is what happened. We were quite successful in that.

Judy Goldhaft of the San Francisco Diggers talking to Jay Babcock for another installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists

• “What ‘impossible’ meant to Richard Feynman; what I learned when I challenged the legendary physicist,” by Paul J. Steinhardt.

• At Strange Flowers: part one of James Conway’s essential end-of-year shopping list, Secret Satan.

• Mixes of the week: Part II and Part III of the three-part At The Outer Marker series by David Colohan.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Olivia Duval presents…Suave: A History of Les Disques du Crépuscule.

Mystery and Truth of the Cthulhu Myth, a Japanese guide to the Cthulhu Mythos.

• Intimacy, Loss and Hope: Inside Florian Hetz’s beautiful 2020 photo diary.

• New music: The Tower (The City) by Vanessa Rossetto/Lionel Marchetti.

Nite Jewel’s favourite albums.

• RIP Stephen Sondheim.

Nothing Is Impossible (1974) by The Interns | Mission Impossible Theme (1981) by Ippu-Do | Impossible Guitar (1982) by Phil Manzanera

The Dreaming City by Michael Moorcock

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Cover art by James Cawthorn. Chaos pin not included.

More sword and sorcery. Last month I was asked to design a reprinting of the very first Elric story by Michael Moorcock, a standalone publication from Jayde Design intended to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Moorcock’s most popular character. The Dreaming City was published in issue 47 of Science Fantasy magazine in June 1961, following a request from the editor, John Carnell, for Moorcock to write a new series of fantasy stories. Over the next three years Science Fantasy published all ten of the novellas that established Elric’s character and his world, ending with Doomed Lord’s Passing in April 1964, the entry which saw Moorcock destroy his creation in a Boschian apocalyptic finale.

The Dreaming City: A Sixtieth Anniversary Edition is a compound facsimile of these publications. The interior design follows the template of the magazine interiors while the front cover is based on one of the later numbers which ran the fifth Elric story, The Flame Bringers, with a cover illustration by James Cawthorn. That illustration may have been attached to a different story but it actually depicts a scene from the end of The Dreaming City when Elric is leaving Imrryr in burning ruins after the place has been sacked by the raiding party he led there. It’s also a much better illustration than the one by Brian Lewis that appeared on the cover of the June 1961 issue. In addition to recreating the cover we’ve also restored the drawing, which in its printed form was slightly cropped at one side, with the complete version taken from Cawthorn’s original. Jim Cawthorn was closely involved with the creation of Elric, and even co-wrote Kings in Darkness, another of the stories in the Science Fantasy sequence. Inside the new edition there are four further illustrations which Cawthorn produced for a German collection of Elric stories published by Heyne in 1979.

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One of James Cawthorn’s interior illustrations.

This small publication will only be of interest to collectors but it was a good thing to be involved with. In the past I’ve designed an Elric-themed album cover for Hawkwind, and last year designed The Stormbringer Sessions, a very limited publication of Jim Cawthorn’s sketched outline for his unfinished Elric graphic novel. The Dreaming City is the first Elric design of mine that features Moorcock’s own text. For an opening shot in what would become a saga spanning several decades and a variety of media The Dreaming City is a remarkably confident piece of work, even more so when you consider that the author was only 21 at the time. Elric begins and ends the story as an outsider, exiled and alone, and with his existence bound to his cursed sword, Stormbringer. Subsequent novels and stories would fill in the history before pitching Elric into the multiverse along with many of Moorcock’s other characters. But this is where it all begins, with six Sea Lords waiting in a tavern wondering whether the albino prince will turn up at all.

The Dreaming City: A Sixtieth Anniversary Edition is available here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn
James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Moorcock: Faith, Hope and Anxiety
Elric 1: Le trône de rubis
The Sonic Assassins
Jim Cawthorn, 1929–2008

Weekend links 576

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Cover art by Bob Haberfield, 1976.

• I’ve been reliably informed that Australian artist Bob Haberfield died recently but I can’t point to an online confirmation of this so you’ll have to take my word for it. “Science” and “sorcery” might describe the two poles of Haberfield’s career while he was working as a cover artist. His paintings made a big impression on British readers of fantasy and science fiction in the 1970s, especially if you were interested in Michael Moorcock’s books when they appeared en masse as Mayflower paperbacks covered in Haberfield’s art. Haberfield also appeared alongside Bruce Pennington providing covers for Panther paperbacks by HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and others, although his work there isn’t always credited. Dangerous Minds collected some of his covers for a feature in 2017. (The US cover for The Iron Dream isn’t a Haberfield, however.)

• “Like Alice, who can only reach the house in Through the Looking-Glass by turning her back to it, Gorey reversed the usual advice to ‘write what you know’ and wrote the apparent opposite of his own situation.” Rosemary Hill reviewing Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery.

• “Orvil…wanders the countryside, visits churches, rummages in antique shops, and encounters strange men to whom he is no doubt equally strange.” John Self reviewing a new edition of In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch.

• At the Wyrd Daze blog: Q&A sessions with Stephen Buckley (aka Polypores), Gareth Hanrahan, and Kemper Norton.

• “Fellini liked to say that ‘I fall asleep, and the fête begins’.” Matt Hanson on Federico Fellini’s phenomenal films.

• A Beautiful Space: Ned Raggett talks to Mick Harris about the thirty-year history of Scorn.

• Deep in the dial: Lawrence English on the enduring appeal of shortwave radio.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on making a picture for Annie Darwin (1841–1851).

DJ Food looks at pages from Grunt Free Press circa 1970.

• Mix of the week: Fact Mix 814 by Loraine James.

• New music: Clash (feat. Logan) by The Bug.

• At BLDGBLOG: Terrestrial Astronomy.

LoneLady‘s favourite albums.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Porn 2.

Tilings Encyclopedia

Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme) (1977) by Tangerine Dream | Science Fiction (1981) by Andy Burnham | Sorceress (2018) by Beautify Junkyards

Going beyond the zero

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“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice—guessed and refused to believe—that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children….”

Reader, I read it. It isn’t an admission of great achievement to announce that you’ve reached the last page of a novel after a handful of stalled attempts, but when it’s taken me 36 years to reach this point it feels worthy of note; and besides which, Gravity’s Rainbow isn’t an ordinary novel. Umberto Eco is partly responsible for my return to Pynchon. I’d just finished The Name of the Rose, a book I’d avoided for years even while reading (and enjoying) a couple of Eco’s other novels, and was wondering what to read next. Maybe it was time to try the Rocket book again? The thick white spine of the Picador edition—760 pages in 10pt type—would accuse me every time I spotted it on the shelf: “Still haven’t made it to page 100, have you?” For many people this happens with novels because a book is “difficult” (which I didn’t think it was), or boring (which it isn’t at all), or simply too long (page count doesn’t put me off). Back in 1985 I was looking for more heavyweight fare after reading Ulysses, something I’ve now done several times, so I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a novel which is misleadingly compared to Ulysses on its back cover. If anything the comparison was an enticing one. Pynchon at the time exerted a gravitational pull (so to speak) for being very mysterious, although this was a decade when most living authors, especially foreign ones, were mysterious to a greater degree than they are today, when so many have their own websites and social media profiles. Pynchon’s works were also referred to in interesting places, unlike his less mysterious contemporaries. I may be misremembering but I seem to recall a mention of the W.A.S.T.E. enigma from The Crying of Lot 49 in Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!; if it is there then it’s no surprise that a writer so preoccupied with conspiracy and paranoia would find favour with the authors of the ultimate conspiracy novel. (And that’s not all. I’m surprised now by the amount of coincidental correspondence between Illuminatus! and Gravity’s Rainbow. Both novels were being written at the same time, the late 1960s, yet both refer to the Illuminati, the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill, Nazi occultism, and the death of John Dillinger. Both novels also acknowledge the precedent of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, another remarkable conflation of conspiracy, secret history, and wild invention.)

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Pynchon had other connections to the kind of fiction I was already interested in. One of his early short stories, Entropy, had been published in New Worlds magazine in 1969, although editor Michael Moorcock later claimed to have avoided reading any of the novels until much later. And, Pynchon, like Shea & Wilson (and Moorcock…), made pop-culture waves. I think it was Laurie Anderson who put Gravity’s Rainbow in the centre of my radar when she released Mister Heartbreak, an album whose third song, Gravity’s Angel, refers to the novel and is dedicated to its author. As for the novel itself, in the mid-1980s this was still Pynchon’s major work, the one that fully established his reputation. Nothing new had appeared since its publication in 1973; Vineland, and the subsequent acceleration of the authorial production line, was six years away. The final lure was the refusal of the Picador edition to communicate very much of its contents: what was this thick volume actually about? The back cover is filled with praise but doesn’t tell you anything about the novel at all, while the cover illustration by Anita Kunz suggests a scenario connected with the Second World War but little else. (“This was one of the most complicated books I ever read,” says the artist, “and really hard to get the germ of the idea. Pynchon kept going off in tangents. I mixed up the art the same way the writer did and made an image that can be read in all directions.”) It’s only when you start reading the book that you find the connection between the novel’s dominant concerns—the development of the V-2 rockets used by the Nazis to bomb London, and the erotic compulsions of Tyrone Slothrop, an American lieutenant at large in war-ravaged Europe—subtly reflected in the illustration, much more subtly than the cover art on the edition that preceded this one.

Continue reading “Going beyond the zero”

The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn

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One of the books I was designing last year is published next month. The Stormbringer Sessons is a resurrection by John Davey of a sketchbook created by James Cawthorn in the mid-1980s for an Elric graphic novel that Cawthorn was commissioned to adapt and illustrate for Savoy Books. This is a limited edition that’s unlikely to be reprinted so anyone interested is advised to pre-order. (See below.)

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Slipcase decoration.

The original Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock isn’t a novel as such but a collection of the second series of linked novellas about Elric of Melniboné that Moorcock wrote for Science Fantasy from 1961 to 1964. Over the course of ten stories Moorcock introduced a character and a world that acted as a riposte to the Tolkienite school of heroic fantasy, where the divisions between Good and Evil are clear and fixed. Elric is like one of Sergio Leone’s characters: the difference between Clint Eastwood’s “Good” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Lee Van Cleef’s “Bad” is merely a matter of degree; both men are killers chasing the same hoard of gold coins. (By coincidence, Leone was preparing to the upset the Western genre with A Fistful of Dollars just as Moorcock was finishing the first Elric stories.)

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James Cawthorn was one of Moorcock’s oldest friends, and a frequent collaborator. He not only illustrated the first Elric stories but also co-wrote the fourth one, Kings in Darkness. Despite having created many Elric illustrations Cawthorn always seemed to want to draw comics based on other characters, notably Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon whose adventures have recently been reprinted in three volumes by Titan Books. The Stormbringer commission was a result of the late David Britton’s obsession with Elric in general and the Stormbringer book in particular. Stormbringer begins with Elric having retired from adventuring; his soul-stealing sword is locked away and he’s settled down to married life. The opening scenes parallel (and prefigure) many Hollywood plots: Elric’s wife is abducted for unknown reasons so Elric has to take up his sword and go after her. What follows is a pursuit into a world growing increasingly dark and chaotic, and with it the realisation that the events taking place are a part of a long-foretold apocalypse that will (and does) destroy that world. The progression from a regular sword & sorcery tale to doom-laden widescreen baroque, with a dragon army flying over a churning Boschian hellscape, is one of the enduring attractions of the book.

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Britton had first persuaded Cawthorn to adapt Stormbringer into comic form in 1976 but the work on that occasion was compromised by lack of time. The sketches in The Stormbringer Sessions are Cawthorn’s roughs which were drawn in preparation for the second attempt, with the entire story worked out in panel form over 250 pages, complete with dialogue and captions. Some of the opening pages are rough indeed, but the drawings for the apocalyptic finale, presented in many double-page spreads, are almost finished pieces. The sketches may lack the finesse of Cawthorn’s other comics work but the power of his drawing and his imagination shines through. Nobody seems to know why he abandoned this project despite having a publisher waiting for it, but he was also adapting the third Hawkmoon book at the time, and had already spent the past decade working on the Hawkmoon trilogy.

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My design for this one is fairly straightforward, mostly a matter of framing and typesetting the opening and closing pages, as well as creating graphics for the cover and the slipcase. As with the Elric-themed Hawkwind album, The Chronicle of the Black Sword, I opted for Celtic-style knotwork for the decoration. Elric’s world isn’t our world but knotwork designs are universal (maybe even multiversal) while being satisfyingly antique and abstract. The publication is a co-production between Jayde Design and Savoy Books, with the book being limited to 100 numbered hardbacks in a decorated slipcase. Each copy also contains a colour print of the cover painting. The book may be ordered here. More page samples follow.

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Continue reading “The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn”